Malawians have learnt with relief that government has rescinded its decision to give a whooping daily allowance of K450 000 to ministers and K350 000 to MPs just to visit the councils to assess the state of preparedness to deal with Covid-19. Thanks to the public and other interest groups who have challenged this outright theft.
Minister of Information and Civic Education Mac Botomani, who initially denied that special Cabinet committee on coronavirus were drawing hefty allowances, should be feeling embarrassed by the revelation.
It defies any reason or justification for the minsters, MPs, let alone special committee on coronavirus to receive such heavy allowances. It is unfortunate that committee members are drawing hefty allowances for attending meetings, giving updates or visiting sites when scarce resources need to be channelled to areas that are needed most.
Health workers have been striking over the past few weeks demanding an increase in risk allowance and to be provided with protective personal equipment. A large quantity of testing kit is needed for mass screening throughout the country. There is also an urgent need to set up testing centres in all the districts. These are activities worth spending millions of kwacha on because they are critical components in tackling the disease.
We have not seen much of the committee’s work apart from giving the nation coronavirus updates in the comfort of Capital Hill offices. The committee is not even proactive to come up with other preventive measures to fight Covid-19 like what other countries are doing. Surely, the work of the committee should not just be meetings or press conferences to issue statistics about how many people have contracted the disease, how many have died or recovered. Can this be the work on which to draw the colossal allowances? It appears the ideas ended when a lockdown, which Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC)has challenged through a court injunction, was announced.
The committee had all the time when it was set up in March to study how other countries were handling the pandemic. It is not enough to tell people to wash their hands, maintain social distance, not touch their nose or mouth or shake hands. Stringent measures should have been instituted to all those who enter Malawi. Since we know that coronavirus is brought by people coming into Malawi, those that test positive at the border must be subjected to mandatory quarantine.
Recently, a number of people coming from Tanzania have tested positive for Covid-19. One wonders why the committee is not coming up with mandatory screening measures up to now. Truck drivers from Tanzania and those who collect IT vehicles from Dar-a-salaam are a threat to the spread of the disease because they are not tested at Songwe border. Why a testing centre is not being set at the border is mind boggling!
The lack of seriousness to get people tested to assess how widespread the disease is one area of concern. No one really knows for sure how many people have the disease in the country because there are a few testing centres, hence few get tested. It is doubtful whether we have even reach 5000 mark. No one will take government seriously when it is not serious in rolling out mass screening or buying protective equipment to distribute to ordinary people.
Setting up screening centres in all the districts, distribution of free masks and gloves (at least to those who cannot manage to buy) will go a long way in complementing other measures to fight the disease. This is how other countries like Senegal have managed to contain the spread of the virus.
Many Malawians are not taking the disease seriously even when they hear the message that coronavirus njakofwa (is dangerous) because government itself is not serious. There is not much that they see on the ground other have coronavirus updates and the usual preventive measures messages. They have become disillusioned and resigned to fate when they learn that committee members and their cohorts are enriching themselves from the very money that is meant to assist them.
However, there is a ray of hope that a reconstituted committee, comprising the opposition, NGOs, faith-based organisations, health experts etc, announced by President Mutharika this week things might change for the better. But the special cabinet committee on coronavirus performed below the expectations of Malawians. It is sad!Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :